So it’s Driver Consistency time for the first time in 2010 – the Bahrain Grand Prix.
After a long and eventful off-season, much was expected in one of the most anticipated starts to the season in years. Who would be quick? Would Alonso usher in an era of success for Ferrari? Would Button or Hamilton get the upper hand at McLaren? How well would Schumacher do on his comeback at the age of 41? Would the new circuit layout improve the racing?
But by far the biggest question was how the ban on refuelling would affect the action on the track? Would it spice up the action and increase the passing on the track, or would the race become a dull procession?
If you are reading this then you probably saw the race. My thoughts are that the race was really dull – almost nothing happened on the track and the pit stops were effectively useless because they were so short. There was a pass for the lead, but only because Vettel had a spark plug problem which caused him to lose power. All of the drivers complained that they could not push as hard as they wanted to because they had to save the tyres. In fact, pretty much all of the drivers ran a one-stop strategy today, so long and careful stints were required on the tyres in heavy cars too – not quite the short sprints and to the limit driving we have seen in the last few years.
But was the lack of action purely due to the lack of refuelling? Well, I don’t think that this is solely to blame for what happened in the Grand Prix. Sure, nobody really had any strategy and could not use pit stops to overtake another driver, but this tactic alone has been the mainstay of F1 for years purely because the cars have difficulty overtaking each other. A series of decisions in the last 30 years have led to wild changes in the technical rules which have given us a Formula that is very heavily aero-dependent and homogenised in terms of engines, tyres and a lot of other mechanical parts. If the cars are all the same and need a lot of clean air for grip, this makes overtaking a lot more difficult. Why can’t we have a set of rules where the cars have small wings, big fat slicks and loads of power? Surely this would look more entertaining at least?
The track certainly has to take some of the blame for this. Bahrain has been on the calendar since 2004 and has not exactly set the world alight as an F1 venue. Sure, it’s nice to see that the locals and the government care about putting on a good show, but what use is it starting the season in a hot sandy dustbowl with no atmosphere. It didn’t work when the season started there in 2006 and to my knowledge has never really produced a really good race.
For a Tilke-drome the layout used to be half decent and at least provide a little opportunity for overtaking, but this year a new section was added, which added 8 turns to the circuit between corners 4 and 5. This increased the lap length to a very long 6.3km (meaning a 49-lap race) and meant that the circuit now has 23 corners:
When you look at the layout, the new section completely ruins the flow of the circuit and is twisty, fiddly, narrow and bumpy. None of the drivers liked it and it makes the circuit too much like Abu Dhabi or any other of the Tilke-Fails on the calendar. It seems that everyone except those who design and build the circuits knows what makes a good racetrack these days. As mentioned in my qualifying post, Will Buxton feared the layout would not make for good racing having seen a direct comparison with the GP2 Asia cars from the ‘old’ circuit to the new one.
But why make an addition to the circuit? The Sheikh of Bahrain claimed it added prestige to the circuit, but I think all it does is make a section which is nice and TV-friendly while allowing for the lap to be lengthened so that the painfully slow newer teams would not get lapped so fast.
But it’s not all doom and gloom though. People have been very quick to jump to the conclusion that the events that unfolded in Bahrain mean that every race in 2010 will be as boring as this one. I am a bit more optimistic, because this is only the first race and Tilke-Dromes never seem to produce good races. In fact, the next race in Australia is always exciting and eventful, so I am sure we will be in for a good race there, along with a few others this year. Even in the best of F1 seasons there have been both good and bad races…
My point here is that one swallow does not necessarily make a summer, and while things in F1 are far from perfect, I think the reaction to the race has been too strong and too soon. Give it a few more races and then we shall see…
As per 2009, this post is also about looking at the lap times to see who was the fastest and most consistent. Just in case you have forgotten how it works during the off-season, you are welcome to read my page on Driver Consistency Explained before we continue:
It is interesting to see that qualifying pace seems to translate into race pace, I was expecting a bit more of a mix-up in the order today.
It’s a shame that the Red Bull was fast but fragile, I hope that this race was a one-off for them and they fix the problem. Good to see Alonso back in a decent car, but I am surprised McLaren were so off the pace – especially Button. Also surprising was Rosberg beating Schumacher. I’m not much of a Rosberg fan and I really thought Schumi would tear him apart.
Is it too early to call who will be fast or slow I wonder? There is certainly a pattern emerging here and I think we will see the ‘Big Four’ of Ferrari, Mercedes, Red Bull and McLaren share the spoils this year. Maybe it is too soon to judge who will come out on top though…
I think Williams and Sauber disappointed me today by not being able to show the same strong pace in testing. However, the midfield seems to be quite tight with only the new teams being well off the pace. Virgin and Hispania did not last very long today, sadly.
But awesome work from Lotus to get both cars to the finish, considering the other new teams have had loads of problems. I do wonder if the teams that fired Gascoyne (especially Toyota) would have done a lot better if they had kept him, because that is an awesome effort by them.
A special mention has to go to Chandhok, who despite having a really difficult debut to F1, managed to handle himself with a smile and was a really good sport. Sadly his race did not last long, but it made a big impression.
Finally it is worth noting that the field is much more spread out than last year, with or without the new teams.
But what does the graph look like when we remove the pit stop laps?
The first thing worth noting is that the driver order has not changed too much here. With fewer and shorter pit stops, the lap times are not as affected by them as they were in 2009. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the shortest pit stops were about 4 seconds long, and HRT had the longest pit stop at 10 seconds. The field spread has now decreased slightly, but the lap times have only decreased a little bit and have in fact increased on average.
The conclusion here is that with a ban on refuelling, the strategy element has been completely removed from F1. Therefore a driver has to get things done on the track if they want to overtake in 2010.
Finally, let’s have a look at who got the fastest lap time today:
So Alonso was about a second a lap faster than everyone else. But look who was second fastest! If Sutil had not had a spin at the start (caused by Webber doing he best oil dump trick from Wacky Races), maybe he could have finished higher than he did (assuming he had a chance of overtaking). From Hülkenberg backwards, the fastest lap times really drop off to the slowest being more than ten seconds off the pace. The average fastest lap time is quite high just because of this.
In general, the Difference to the fastest laps set in qualifying is about four seconds a lap. It is no wonder the drivers confessed they found the race easy going today and that they were not pushing the cars too much – that is about a 3% drop in performance!
Vettel is also ‘stuck in the midfield’ in terms of fastest laps – mainly because he had a problem with his car for the second half of the race and could not push as much. Therefore when Alonso set his fastest lap at the end of the race, Vettel was nursing his car home. In fact, Vettel’s fastest lap was set right before his problem and was one of the fastest laps of the whole race at that time, only bettered by Alonso with 1,59.583 and 2:00.019 on laps 29 and 30 (thanks to Juan Diego for pointing that out ;) ). So the Red Bulls are quick too, and if you check out StartledBunny’s F1 Lap Leaders Championship, you can see how unlucky Vettel was as he led most of the laps…
The rest of the top half of the field are very close to each other – within about a second of each other, so on pure pace, the cars are quite close.
So that’s all from Bahrain then. I know everyone is down about the race today, but keep the faith as it’s too early to call whether we will be in for a bad year or a good year. Maverick from VivaF1 and StuartC also concur with this view, but what do you think? Are we in for a good or a bad year, or are we all over reacting on the strength of a typical Tilke-drome?
As always, let me know what you think in the comments below and I hope you enjoyed the article ;)